New faculty: Gautam Hans

Gautam Hans, assistant clinical professor of law (John Russell/Vanderbilt)
Gautam Hans, assistant clinical professor of law (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Gautam Hans wants to do two things in his new position at Vanderbilt Law School: help people understand what the First Amendment truly does and defend their right to its protections.

Hans, a new assistant clinical professor of law, is working with local partners to find clients for his First Amendment clinic, funded through a grant from The Stanton Foundation and being launched this semester. The idea is to give students, under his supervision, the opportunity to develop legal strategies and use them, learning how to overcome challenges with diverse clients and cases along the way.

“The First Amendment, at its core, is designed to limit the government’s ability to restrict free speech and assembly,” Hans said. “There’s a lot of Supreme Court case law interpreting what that means. But recently we’ve seen that the First Amendment can be used to go after government regulation. Most famously, that happened in the 2010 Citizens United case, where the Supreme Court found that some campaign finance laws violated freedom of speech principles.”

His interest in media started before kindergarten, when his parents, immigrants from India living in a Detroit suburb, made sure the family always subscribed to The New York Times. After joining the newspaper staffs at his high school and then as an undergrad at Columbia University, Hans worked briefly in publishing before earning a master’s degree in information and a law degree, both from the University of Michigan.

“I’d already dealt a lot with issues of civil liberties, online privacy and intellectual property,” he said. “I wanted to pursue a clinical teaching career that deals with the legal aspects of speech, information and technology.”

Hans’ latest research involves deconstructing the phrase “the only cure for bad speech is more speech”—determining its origin and understanding its failure to persuade skeptics of the need for robust speech protections.

Teaching, conducting research and running a law clinic doesn’t leave Hans much leisure time, but when he has some, he enjoys making frozen desserts. He even occasionally updates a blog about it.

The blog’s name? Habeas Custard.